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Published: July 11th 2016
A few weeks after our Czech trip, I find myself in the North East. Again. It was a flying visit. I discussed the itinerary for the day with my constant companion in these parts. How about we go for a walk first? We could then nip to Sound It Out Records in Stockton and then perhaps take in the pre-season friendly at Wolviston. She looked at me and didn’t respond. It wasn’t realistic, that she would. Dogs don’t answer back as a rule – they just give unfaltering loyalty and sign up for the trip. We went down the beach first. It was fortunate that we escaped the worst of the rain, but we got wet in the end. Is this supposed to be summer? July, indeed! There were few folks around. In a couple of weeks it would be the kid’s summer holiday time and things would change ……. but not today. We thought about going under Huntcliff, but the tide wasn't favourable. Dogs are banned from the central sections of the beach between May and September. Harsh and difficult to explain to an animal. Alas, the tide was in. She would have that pleasure the next day, when I
had looked at the tide times. Crystal just gets on with it and goes to explore the rock pools. She struggles badly with the depth of some of the water – runs through them and wonders why they aren’t all 3 inches deep. Quicksand is a mystery to her
I went to see my mum. She doesn’t recognise me, as usual. It is sad. Crystal does the rounds of as many other residents as she can. She loves the attention and there is always a possibility that someone will drop a biscuit, if she distracts them. A dog ruled by her stomach. She is soon bored and looked hopefully that we will move on. Sound It Out records offered nothing that inspired me in the 2nd
hand section. Vinyl makes me happy in a way CDs never did. Perish the thought of downloading too much. Crystal waited patiently for me to come to my conclusions about a purchase(or in this case lack of one). She actually likes music. Peter Hook’s bass guitar makes her go to sleep and she'll settle next to a speaker if the volume is kept sensible, so we’ll say that she favours Joy
Division and some New Order. It was throwing it down with rain in the High Street. The lunchtime booze crew were huddled outside various pubs having a fag. The dog looked in vain in case any market produce had fallen to the floor.
We moved on to Billingham. Billingham used to be an ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) town. The advent of the First World War changed the town and in 1917 it was chosen as a place to manufacture synthetic ammonia used for explosives. The plant grew up around Old Billingham and the product later found a different use in fertilisers. I named this blog Brave New World. I have read that Aldous Huxley was inspired to write his novel in 1931, after a visit to the plant. The title in turn came from Miranda's speech in the Shakespeare production, The Tempest. John incidentally, was one of the main characters. The link with synthetic ammonia lives on in one of the local football teams, Billingham Synthonia. The old social clubs of ICI still remain on Central Avenue, but the large headquarters building has been razed to the ground. The Billingham Synthonia football ground is opposite and currently
gracing Northern League Division 2. The stadium was opened on 6 September 1958 and in the same year, the stadium was used for an England 'B' international athletics meeting. The stadium's cantilever stand was the longest in the country at the time. It still looks quite impressive today. Their neighbours play over the railway line in a more homely, but much less impressive venue. They were expecting a bumper crowd today. Hartlepool were bringing their first team squad for a pre-season friendly. It was about an hour before kick off as I passed. The interest didn't look bumper at this point.
The town centre is a bit of a concrete jungle. I read that Huxley hailed Billingham as a "triumphant embodiment" of the principles of planning, an "ordered universe in the midst of the larger world of planless incoherence". Was he talking about town or the plant? On the basis that most of the current town centre is a child of the 1960s, I suspect the plant. The focal point of where I was standing now is The Forum, which makes it sound all Roman. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is New Billingham and
links the old ICI end of town to the new estates that were constructed to house plant workers. The Forum is a multi-use sports base and houses a theatre - built as the mother of all sports and recreation facilities for the disciples of chemicals. There was a now long gone fish pond in the middle. It has an ice rink, which defined the town when I was a kid. Everybody in Billingham could ice skate. We never could. I still can’t! I used to watch the then Billingham Bombers in the mid-1980s, when I couldn’t afford to follow my football team all the time. They are no longer the Bombers. I suppose the name doesn't fit with any commercial sponsor's aspirations. The Canadian, Jim Earle, was the main man in my time. His talent was invariably not enough when the hordes from Durham Wasps arrived. I then found some money and it was never quite the same, after I'd seen Gretzky play in the NHL (at the LA Kings). Jim had departed up the road to Whitley Bay by this point and his replacement, Gord Sharpe, never quite cut the mustard. Ice hockey in Britain then moved into the
Arena era and there was no place for the Billinghams, Durhams, and Whitley Bays of this world. The Forum was opened by HRH Queen Elizabeth II in 1967. It has had a facelift since I used to play 5 a side footie there in the late 1980s. The exterior is all blues, greys and yellows now. On a bright, sunny day, I bet it looks quite good. It now has Grade 2 listed status. The Forum Theatre has seen many famous folk appear there over the years and the town has produced one or two in it's own right. Jamie Bell - Billy Elliot - was born and grew up here. My personal favourite discovery though is that Duncan Bruce, former lead singer of Chumbawamba, was born in Billingham. He must look at what is left of ICI every time he plays "I get knocked down again". Well maybe not - probably hasn't been back in years!
I moved away from The Forum into the shopping area. The Billingham Arms has lost an argument with the bulldozers since I was here last and is now an Aldi. A strange statue was commissioned to add culture and HRH nipped round
to unveil it, after her Forum duties were over in October 1967. It is supposed to convey the family. The Duke is rumoured to have not been too impressed. I see his point. It was a blustery afternoon for July, but my feet should have been warm. The designs for the pedestrian areas were supposed to incorporate heated pavements. A few state of the art 1960s pedestrian ramps grace the shopping levels. Who needs steps? The Library had been completely rebuilt. The blues and yellows had been waived for this project. It was steel grey. A few lost souls wandered around, but not one imagined the hordes of yesteryear. This town centre has been the scene of the Billingham Folklore Festival since 1965 and this summer's event is in a few weeks. The traffic free town centre was viewed as ideal to display the talents of various dance, folk and traditional musical groups from every corner of the world. I always wondered what a group of Peruvian dancers made of a vista of cooling towers and an evening of flickering lights. As a song from a Redcar band once put it - "red sky in the morning, red sky at
night, chemical plant and steelworks light everything in sight"- except of course that there are no lights from the steel plant now! I returned to the car and headed to Wolviston.
Wolviston was and still is the posh end of Billingham. I was looking for Wolviston FC, which is actually almost at the entrance to Wynyard Hall. The land around Wynyard Hall has been extensively developed and now some of the more expensive homes on Teesside cover the grounds. A golf course sits in the middle. It was favoured by footballers and Dragons at one time, but I have no idea now. I located Metcalfe Park, which uses the same car park entrance as the cricket club next door. A small sign between the giant conifer trees marks the solitary turnstile. There was no charge today for the pre-season friendly against Guisborough Town, who play at least 2 levels higher standard. The eyes of the football world were on Paris for the UEFA 2016 Final tomorrow between France and Portugal, but the grass routes game have already got their new season underway. The committee man bid me welcome, as indeed did all. I wandered to a small bench near
Library to the right. The Forum is in the distance.
the half way line. A covered stand with seats was opposite. A number of bodies spilled from the dugouts either side, as both teams were using the game as a fitness exercise and had brought big squads. Guisborough Town are much changed in personnel and a World Cup winner was making his debut. OK, so it was the 2006 FIFA U15 World Cup and you've never heard of Thibault Charmey. The former Paris St Germain trainee fitted in an education in the USA, before landing as a French teacher in County Durham. The fields of County Durham are a far cry from Paris, scoring in "a World Cup Final", the University of West Alabama and playing in the National Premier Soccer League in the USA with Chattanooga FC in 2013/14. In all honesty unless I was on hand to fill you in with thee facts, watching the game you wouldn't have noticed him. Guisborough cruised to a 6 - 1 win. I chewed the fat with the father of the Wolviston left back and Crystal followed the whole game with amazing interest. I took a short video of her - head going from side to side following the ball. One
day I might put it on social media. She is a veteran of such things, having her photo published on Redcar Town's facebook page. Appendix 1 Pre-Season Friendly
Date: Saturday 9th July 2016 @ 1430 Hours Venue: Metcalfe Park, Wolviston, County Durham
Attendance: Est 39 (plus 1 dog)
Wolviston FC 1 - 6 Guisborough Town FC
Tot: 0.533s; Tpl: 0.105s; cc: 14; qc: 34; dbt: 0.0663s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.4mb